I am your typical overachieving “driver, driver, driver,” (as my husband lovingly describes me), so I thrive on goals. I love new beginnings and a sense of renewed control over the direction of my life. But I have often felt the Holy Spirit constrain me, direct me, and temper me so that I may sustain a more enduring, constructive faith in the achievement of those goals. Here is an example:
I was elated when my husband proposed to me many years ago. We had prayed and felt good about planning our wedding during our summer break from college. I imagined a simple, elegant reception and promptly went to work making my lists to meet our deadline. But my fiancé began to worry about a graduate school entrance exam, and expressed concerns that we should postpone. I assured him that I had received an answer to prayer, that it would “all work out,” and I would plan everything so he could study.
To make a long story short, he felt so stressed out and misunderstood by me that he panicked, left the state, and moved to his sister’s house to finish studying for and to take the exam. I was heartbroken and terribly confused. I returned wedding announcements and spent many days and wet tissues sifting out what had actually happened (besides a massive communication problem). One of the realizations I’d had was that an answer to prayer does not insulate us from the responsibility of making good decisions when acting on that answer.
This was the scripture that opened my eyes:
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? . . . So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:28, 33)
I know this scripture doesn’t say anything about wedding schedules or skittish fiancés or pushy bridezillas, but it taught me something very significant about faithful discipleship. I had vaguely thought that following Christ was like a trust fall – you believe He’s there, so you let yourself drop into the unknown. As long as you’re acting on His promptings, He will take care of the fallout. But that image does not completely or accurately represent all that faith requires of us. It hit me that the injunction to “forsake all” meant that I should forsake my pride, my control, my timetable, but not my responsibility for the work of discipleship. In this sense, instead of the word “forsake” meaning some form of reckless abandonment, it actually implied commitment and resolve. The imperative to “count the cost” is all about a disciple’s accountability.
I learned that Christ didn’t care about a summer wedding at the expense of our relationship. The peace I felt about planning our wedding was just a first step in a much longer process of building a marriage. From that moment on, I began to value what Christ expected me to do after getting an answer to prayer. As J. Devn Cornish taught, “We must not only say our prayers; we must also live them.”
The thing about goals is this – we set them in the privacy of prayer, but must eek them out in the messy middle of life. Things change. We change. So we must look further down the road instead of looking at just the intermediate goals we set for ourselves. We must look at the ultimate goal – becoming Christlike.
Joseph Wirthlin said, “We [might] see ourselves in terms of yesterday and today. Our Heavenly Father sees us in terms of forever . . . The gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of transformation. It takes us as men and women of the earth and refines us into men and women for the eternities.” If you’ve set New Year’s goals, I encourage you to look at them again. Instead of seeing them as a finite checklist that is either complete or not (i.e. a wedding that has to happen in the summer, darn it!), look at yourself and what you are trying to ultimately build as a disciple of Christ. Ask yourself:
The scripture I quoted from Luke could easily be read to say, “For which of you, intending to lose 15 pounds by March 1, sitteth not down to figure out how to make it happen?”. We don’t need to be disciples of Christ to know that eating and exercise has something to do with it. But we do need to be on the path of discipleship to experience the eternal rewards of losing 15 pounds. Even our seemingly “unspiritual” goals can bring us closer to Christ if we seek His direction and forsake the parts of our nature that hold us back. A disciple’s accountability is essential to his or her eternal progression. It doesn’t work to plan a wedding and alienate your fiancé in the process! And it’s no good to try to lose 15 pounds, but to also hate yourself and yell at everyone around you to make it happen.
A disciple’s accountability is essential to his or her eternal progression.
Through Christ, the ultimate Builder, the Author and Finisher of our Faith, we can make lasting change from the inside out. When we rely on Him and on the process of discipleship, we will be less likely to condemn ourselves or be frustrated by setbacks. We will see them, as did Adam and Eve and all disciples since, as opportunities for greater growth and progression. And we will celebrate our internal successes even before they ever yield results on the physical scales of life.
For the record, my fiancé and I eventually sealed the deal . . . in FEBRUARY (eye roll!) almost eleven years, a few graduate degrees and several kids ago. We often say our summer breakup became the great foundation to our marriage. We continue to work on our communication with each other and with God. And we have gotten marginally better at being both more flexible and resilient in our goals so that, through the grace of Christ, we may have “sufficient to finish.” Cheers to you and yours, and here’s to a progressive 2017!
Becca is a contributing author for the Grow Your Faith column of The Small Seed. She can be found any night of the year satiating her addiction to buttered popcorn, she can be recognized by her Lego-induced limp on one side, and, according to knowing sources at the grocery store, she “has her hands full, bless her heart.” Rather than add more to her life, she is trying to keep up what she is already doing, just with more faith and devotion to her Savior Jesus Christ, so it can be said of her, “she hath done what she could.”